SOE have thrown a curve ball ahead of their presentations at the E3 games fair. SOEmote (video link) is a new pair of features coming to EQ2 that will allow you to modulate your voice in the in-built voicechat to sound deeper or higher etc (called voice fonts). Also the face-tracking feature will map your facial expressions, captured via webcam, onto your avatar in game so when you smile, frown or laugh your avatar will copy those expressions.

From a roleplayers perspective this is a potentially wonderful tool if it doesn’t reduce game performance too greatly. I can see it being a major bonus for EQ Next especially if they are targetting console gamers who are traditionally even more likely to use voicechat / webcams for communication than PC based MMO gamers since they lack keyboards for text chat. Regardless of the actual effectiveness of the system and it’s general usefulness to the game I do applaud 100% SOE doing something to support the RP community, this is something that very few developers will do in such an overt way.

I wonder if we’ll soon be seeing ‘push to talk’ changed to ‘push to emote’ (I should copyright that quicksmartish)? That could be important; who wants their avatar to be sneezing randomly if you happen to have a cold? It could also lead to awkward questions if you’re avatar is frowning constantly or shaking its head when you sit there silently disagreeing with your raid leaders plan!

There’s been lots of discussion of this already on the blogosphere, including a hefty dose of the usual cynicism but I will state that I empathise most with Keen’s emphasis that we shouldn’t stiffle innovation in the industry when it (very rarely) occurs.

I can see this feature bringing some people back to the game. The news last month that you’ll be able to play avatars in the user-generated dungeon builder instances is also very welcome. I’m still on EQ2 hiatus though until the mess with Alaplaya is resolved. I see nothing positive coming from the threads on the EQ2 boards and the webpages for EQ2 on the Alaplaya site do not look promising for the quality of service for European players in future…

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